The voice of Ari Hest over the phone is not unlike his voice on a recording. It is low and firm, yet surprisingly gentle. Born into a musical family, his father a college music professor and his mother a cantor, Hest, who is set to perform at CinemaSalem on April 14, is well suited for a career as a musician. During his fifteen-years as a professional singer-songwriter, Hest has released eight albums, three EPs, and a project called “52” in which he wrote, recorded and released a new song every week for a year. His experiences as an artist, however, are perhaps equally as valuable as his accomplishments.
Hest has kept in touch with a longtime fan who is a cancer survivor. They met at a few of his shows over the years, and she has shared with him the way his music has helped her find strength during her fight against cancer. “When anybody tells me that my music has impacted their life in a way that provides them joy and motivation to beat struggles like that, I mean it’s just mind-blowing,” he said. According to Hest, the impact he has on his fans is the aspect of his work he values most.
On a warm spring afternoon, CinemaSalem co-owner Paul Van Ness unlocked the front doors of the theatre and let escape the pungent scent of buttered popcorn leading a trail into the dark corridor of the theatre lobby. Not unlike Hest, Van Ness has found his passion in the way his work positively impacts others. A longtime film lover and graduate of Gordon College, Van Ness is enthralled by the movie business. “Movies have every art form subsumed in them. It has photography, it has music, it has writing, it has acting, it has all the arts in one experience.” He worked in video production for several years before starting his own production company where he has been making commercials, documentaries, feature films and corporate videos.
Van Ness has co-owned CinemaSalem since 2006. The theatre became available after going out of business in 2005 as Patriot Cinemas, a chain of cinemas mostly exclusive to the South Shore. Patriot Cinema closed simply because, “it wasn’t doing that well… When you come into a building where the previous operators have basically gone out of business and given up on it, then you worry a lot.” Despite his familiarity with the movie industry, there were surprises for Van Ness in the operation of his own theater.
In 2012, the theatre was required to switch to digital movie projection due to an expensive technology upgrade mandated across the country. “We thought we were going to have to close; that’s the absolute truth.” It cost about $400,000 to switch the three projectors from analog to digital. The studio paid for a third of the cost, but the theatre was $60,000 short for the remaining two-thirds. The cash shortage required the cinema to raise the outstanding balance in 40 days. The theater turned to a Kickstarter campaign, putting the future of the cinema in the hands of its customers. “Save CinemaSalem,” raised the needed funds in just 12 days. Van Ness was thrilled and heartened by the quick and generous embrace from the community.
The upcoming appearance by Hest, along with a busy schedule of other acts, represents an expanded focus on live performance that goes back to a community survey conducted prior to opening. There are also excellent acoustics at the theater, and Van Ness says that has also driven demand for live music. In addition, CinemaSalem uses live music during breaks to liven things up between documentary films during the Salem Film Fest, which occurred last week. But until now, live performances at CinemaSalem consisted mostly of local and regional artists. Now, the theater is starting to feature national artists such as Magic Dick and Shun Ng, Jonathan Edwards, and Melissa Ferrick – as well as other small theater productions. According to Van Ness, the cinema is continuing on with a community-based focus. “I think what people are really looking for is a place where they belong rather than just a transaction,” said Van Ness.
CinemaSalem makes a point of being responsive to input, leading to films being shown by customer request. It has even put on Russian films for the prominent Russian community in the area. “Salem is a culturally vibrant area. People love art, people love performance. It is a very community oriented place,” Van Ness observed, and it pleases him to be able to provide a venue with offerings that go beyond film. “When people come in here we like them to feel like it’s their place.” Van Ness said because he believes that in doing so, “You’ve provided them with an unforgettable experience.”
CinemaSalem is located at One East India Square, Salem. Visit CinemaSalem.com .